Forget Job Titles, Focus on Strengths and Interests (And Coffee)

Kristen Salvatore believed in the power of video games long before she became the Vice President Commercial Director of Esports at Twitch. First as a journalist with PC Gamer and then as the head of brand strategy for Bioware, Kristen understood that games were cool, legitimate, and they could change everything. “There are a few things in the world that are so universally understood and have the power to change social fabric,” she told me in an interview with Rufus. Games achieve this status by dismantling geographic barriers associated with traditional sports teams—think of trying to be a Red Sox fan in Manhattan, for example. With games, everyone can rally around the content, regardless of their location.

Despite their rise in popularity, videogames and their legitimacy have been questioned for years, she explained. Of her time at one company, Kristen described feeling as though she was trying to move a boulder in creating respect and appreciation for games. After reviewing the data on mobile game usage during a meeting, an engineer quipped that the company was creating a culture of time wasting. This is when Kristen had what she describes as her “Norma Ray moment” (if you haven’t seen Sally Field the final stand scene in Norma Rae, Google it immediately). “No! Play is important,” she told the room full of engineers. “Play makes people happy, and happy is kinder.” Her passion for games is tangible. “My favorite thing is to meet a client who says they don’t know anything about games. Ninety percent of the time they have Words with Friends on their phone—and I say, see, you’re a gamer!”

Beyond the communities and connections gaming builds, Kristen enjoys working with the people around her. “For an industry that generates interest between so many people, the actual number of people creating is pretty small,” she told me. And as Kristen and her colleagues advocate for gaming’s legitimacy, they forge deep bonds. This intimacy lends a familial feel to the workplace that Kristen appreciates, and I can tell she means it as she describes how she attends former colleagues’ weddings and their kids’ birthday parties.

Despite her impressive background, Kristen graciously described how she became responsible for sales strategies around competitive gaming at Twitch. After the birth of her daughter Ozzy, she found herself thinking about next steps in her career in a big-picture context. But the more she thought about which direction to head, the more confused she became. Ozzy’s father offered her some advice: have coffee with the people in your network just to have a conversation.

Kristen found friends and co-workers incredibly generous with their time, and she ended up talking with one of her former bosses at PC Gamer, who had since moved on to Twitch. She sat down with him and asked her to think with her about her strengths and interests. They ignored job titles and pulled out the gist of what she likes to do: strategic thinking to connect opportunities; cross-functional communication; thoughtfulness in communicating with people who are not familiar with the gaming ecosystem (as a gaming neophyte, I can attest to Kristen’s skill here). When Kristen received an invitation to consider a job in sponsorship sales with Twitch, her first reaction was “My background’s in journalism and marketing—not sales.” She thought of the strengths she had discussed over coffee, though, and realized she could transfer them to a new area like sales.

What’s the most exciting thing Kristen sees in her future work? Twitch. Essentially a social video streaming platform, Twitch mainly hosts live broadcasts of users playing games and allows other users to comment in real time. The content is growing in breadth and diversity, Kristen told me, a distinct element of excitement in her voice. There are cooking, art and music communities, for example. “You need to check out Bernie,” she said. Bernie or @pianoimproman is a Julliard-trained pianist who takes live requests on Twitch. I created an account and soon found myself mesmerized as Bernie tapped into his envious catalog of songs and even quickly learned ones he didn’t know. Just below Bernie, users commented on his performance, talking with each other about their favorites in a live feed. Watching all this, I thought of Kristen’s enthusiasm about the communities gaming creates. She’s right: it’s hard not be excited.

Cate Stern is an attorney and writer. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and daughters.

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